Charlotte Fox: A Life of Great Heights and Tragic Losses
Charlotte Fox was a trailblazing alpinist who became the first American woman to climb three mountains above 8,000 meters, including Mount Everest. She was also a survivor of the infamous 1996 blizzard that killed eight climbers on Everest, an ordeal that she recounted in Jon Krakauer’s book “Into Thin Air”. Fox died on May 24, 2021, at the age of 61, after an apparent fall down the stairs at her home in Telluride, Colorado.
Fox was born on May 10, 1960, in Greensboro, North Carolina. She grew up in a wealthy family and attended a prestigious boarding school. She graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in anthropology. She moved to Colorado right after college and worked as a ski patroller for 30 years. She fell in love with mountaineering and joined several expeditions around the world.
In 1994, she became the first American woman to summit Gasherbrum II, a 26,362-foot peak in Pakistan. The following year, she climbed Cho Oyu, a 26,906-foot mountain in the Himalayas. In 1996, she achieved her lifelong dream of reaching the top of Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world at 29,029 feet.
However, her triumph turned into a nightmare as she descended from the summit. A rogue storm swept across the mountain with wind chills of 100 degrees below zero. Fox ran out of oxygen and suffered from frostbite. She huddled with her fellow climbers in the snow and ice and waited for death to come. “I didn’t see how we were going to get out of it alive,” she told Krakauer. “The cold was so painful, I didn’t think I could endure it anymore. I just curled up in a ball and hoped death would come quickly.”
Miraculously, she survived through the night and was rescued and evacuated by helicopter. She later chose a custom Colorado license plate that read “Neverest” to signify that she would never climb the mountain again.
Fox continued to pursue her passion for climbing and skiing in other parts of the world. She also faced several tragic losses in her personal life. In 1993, her boyfriend Mark Bebie died in an avalanche while ice climbing in Canada. In 2004, her husband Reese Martin III died in a paragliding crash in Washington State.
Fox was remembered by her friends as a fearless, generous and adventurous woman who lived life to the fullest. She was also an advocate for environmental causes and animal welfare. She supported organizations such as The Access Fund, The Nature Conservancy and Telluride Animal Foundation.
Fox died from injuries apparently suffered after slipping down a steep flight of stairs at her home. Her death shocked and saddened the climbing community and those who knew her. “Charlotte had survived so much up high,” her friend Alison Osius wrote in a tribute for Rock And Ice magazine. “It was stunning and profoundly sad that she died that evening of May 24 in a household accident.”
Besides her climbing achievements, Fox was also known for her adventurous spirit, her generosity and her love for animals. She was an avid skier, biker, hiker and runner. She supported various environmental and humanitarian causes, such as The Access Fund, The Nature Conservancy and Telluride Animal Foundation. She had a special bond with her avalanche dogs, Max and Gus, who accompanied her on many trips and events.
Fox was also a friend and mentor to many climbers, especially women. She was a board member of the American Alpine Club for six years and helped organize events and programs for the climbing community. She was an inspiration to many who admired her courage, resilience and passion.
Fox faced many challenges and tragedies in her life, but she never gave up on her dreams. She once said in an interview with Rock and Ice magazine: “I think it’s important to live life to the fullest, to challenge yourself, to be in the moment.”
Fox is survived by her mother, Gudrun Fox; her brother, David Fox; and her partner, Tom Murphy. She will be greatly missed by her family, friends and fellow climbers who shared her love for the mountains.